I stepped on the scales at the doctor’s office recently. I was surprised—and not pleasantly.
Of course, alcohol = calories, and I need to cut calories. Thankfully, there are viable non-alcoholic options for me when it comes to the craft beer I love so much.
Good non-alcoholic beer is not a new thing; I had actual tasty non-alcoholic beer when I visited Germany 25 years ago. But much of what has been on the market for years in the U.S. has been beer with 0.5% alcohol by volume or less (more about this later) that tastes of sadness. Fortunately, times have changed in favor of teetotalers, as I found out during recent visits to Total Wine and More.
First, we should discuss how all of this is possible. There are a number of ways to make non-alcoholic beer, with varying results. An older method that gained popularity in the Middle East, where alcohol is forbidden to Muslims, is to remove the alcohol from already-brewed, alcoholic beer. This is done by heating the beer to boil off the alcohol. This seems simple, but it carries the heavy price of also boiling off other aromas and flavors. This can be combatted some via vacuum distillation, lowering the boiling point of alcohol and preserving more aroma and flavor in the final product. Heineken does this when it creates its 0.0% beer.
Reverse osmosis is another method. Alcohol and water are filtered out of a beer, leaving only the beer’s “essence.” The alcohol is then distilled away from the water, and the water is added back. This comes at a different cost—of the beer’s body and foaming capabilities.
Yet another method involves controlled fermentation involving a yeast strain that doesn’t ferment maltose, leaving sucrose, glucose and fructose, which are partially fermented, producing only a small amount of alcohol (below the U.S. legal threshold of 0.5%) and resulting in a sweeter beer. This can be counteracted by changing the amount of malts added, as well as adding more hops or bittering agents.
Any of these methods of producing non-alcoholic beer are more involved (and often more expensive) than producing “regular” beer—but what about the results?
I started with Lagunitas’ IPNA. This is an under-0.5% beer with the promise of lots of hop flavor. However, the pour was not impressive; it resembled a malty soda with not much head hanging around. The flavor was that of a malt soda with citrus and herbal aromas and flavors. It was not terrible, but kind of a limp version of a beer, experience-wise.
Thankfully, the next beer I tried was the NA IPA from Three Weavers Brewing. It is similarly under 0.5% ABV, but the pour resulted in a clear, deep-gold glass of beer with a pillowy white head. The aroma and flavors were all extremely reminiscent of a fully alcoholic IPA as well, with tons of citrus (I got tangelo most of all), a juicy mouthfeel and a nice bitter backbone to finish it off. This was the first N/A IPA I’d had that didn’t leave me missing an actual beer.
Athletic Brewing Co. was recommended to me by my friend and colleague at work, head brewer Juan Higuera. He had even visited the solely non-alcoholic brewery and was impressed. Serendipitously, a new Athletic beer was on the end cap at the store. Geralt’s Gold is a “hoppy helles,” and it has a tie-in with The Witcher series on Netflix. While I haven’t watched a single episode, I’ve played the excellent video game The Witcher 3 many times (including very recently), and it all seemed too coincidental to not get the beer. I’m thankful I did, because it is really good. This is a German-style lager with American-style hopping. I got some peach, baking spice and little bread-like character, with a crisp, balanced bitter finish.
With things turning out better than I could have hoped for with these beers, I made another trip and picked up two more. I went back to Three Weavers, but this time picked up their NA Lager. It’s a solid, slightly citrusy and very refreshing beer that just happens to have almost no alcohol and only 45 calories. I can easily see this as a summer backyard-BBQ beer for when you’re the designated driver, or you’re hosting and want to ensure you stay sober so you don’t screw up the food.
The other beer I acquired was the 0.0% Guinness Draught. I simply did not know what to expect here (although I assumed it would be well done, at least), so when I popped the can, heard the familiar sound and saw some of the foam escaping the pour spout, I was encouraged. The pour looked the same—with that beautiful cascading dance of the nitrogen-infused liquid eventually settling into a pillowy, off-white head. The aroma seemed the same as the original, with an almost ashy roast character, chocolate and coffee. The flavor was similar to an indistinguishable degree, and the mouthfeel seemed to be the same—and I was floored by the experience. I am now curious to try the original and the N/A version side by side to see if there is anything at all that is different. But for now, I’ll simply be enjoying the 0.0% beer while allowing myself to forget that there will be no ensuing buzz.
This initial adventure in non-alcoholic craft beer has been wildly fruitful. Even my least-favorite, the Lagunitas IPNA, was not at all bad. With all of the above-mentioned beers ranging from 45 to 80 calories, my weight-loss journey can continue without me feeling terribly deprived of the beverages I most enjoy. I also have a renewed respect for the whole venture of making non-alcoholic beer and look forward to exploring more
With that, I raise my glass and—very soberly—toast.
Caesar Cervisia: A Diet Has Forced Me Toward Non-Alcoholic Beers—and I’ve Been Pleasantly Surprised by What I’ve Found is a story from Coachella Valley Independent, the Coachella Valley’s alternative news source.